The (oft-underestimated) value of an online-only news article

Nobody ever questions the value of a news article published in the print version of a major daily. Print coverage has been the bee’s knees of exposure in North America since sometime around the early 1700’s. And much to my chagrin, for many that hasn’t changed one bit.

If there’s one thing that everyone in an organization understands it’s that neutral or positive coverage in the Toronto Star or the Globe and Mail, for example, is a good thing. Seeing mention, especially positive, of the company in a major paper will surely get everyone in the organization dancing the happy dance. But what if that exact same article was published online only? Would it get the CEO out of their chair? Surprisingly, it may not.

I have faced the challenge of convincing people that there is great value in an online-only piece on more than one occasion. An advocate of all media types from broadcast to print, I will be the last person to put down an article in a print newspaper. However, I would argue that an online-only article on a major outlet’s website could very well be more valuable than the same story in a print-only version – here’s just a few reasons why:

Sharing: if you wanted to share an interesting story you read in your copy of a print paper with someone you would have to physically bring it to them and show them. With online news you can share it with the world with the click of a button. What’s more, if the story is compelling, people in the sharer’s network may also decide to share the article with their network, further spreading your messages. I can’t personally think of a better way to maximize your “audience” than through word-of-mouth and sharing.

Search engine friendly: an article published online will be indexed by all of the major search tools, like Google, Yahoo!, Bing, etc. This means that people could come across the article and learn about your business, even if they’ve never heard of you before. For example, let’s say your company sells home security systems. Someone searching for info on security systems may come across your article just in their search – this could easily prompt them to get in touch to learn more.

Shelf life: unlike a print newspaper, which is generally tossed in the recycling bin the same day it’s delivered, an online story lives on and remains searchable for years to come (perhaps indefinitely). Of course if you would like you can always head to your library and visit the archives for old print stories, so don’t get me wrong, I understand that they too live on in some form.

Discussion: like it or not, people have opinions about your company/industry. Though there are a number of “trolls”out there filling comment threads with garbage, there are also a ton of smart, insightful people joining the conversations. Want to know what people think – read the comments on your article.

Instantaneous: talk about effective crisis communications! Crises happen to the best of us. When they do you obviously want to douse the flames as fast as possible before you have a wildfire on your hands. With major media being online you can now have your side of the story seen by the world within hours of the crisis breaking.

Not just for crisis situations, many readers like to stay on top of news as it breaks regardless. I’ve always been a big fan of sitting with my morning paper and a coffee, scanning through the headlines. However, the more I read online the more often the headlines in the paper are “old news” to me. Most of what I find in the paper I already read about the day prior.

Reach potential: this may not be applicable for some, but with online news you can reach far beyond the borders of your city or nation. A print paper is distributed regionally/nationally and doesn’t typically make it to readers beyond those areas. Your story online has the potential to be seen by readers as far away as Australia, and everywhere in between.

It’s the future! According to the Newspaper Audience Databank (NAD bank), over the past 10 years “Weekly readership of printed editions has declined as technology has provided Canadians with access to contentthroughout the day presented by their favourite newspapers on the Internet using computers and hand-held devices. Anyone can be up-to-date with the latest news or sports scores with the touch of a button; not only local news, but news from around the world.” Source: http://goo.gl/nqMZG . And this won’t change any time soon – the trend will only continue to see more and more people heading online for their news as devices like the iPad make it easier than ever to consume the latest.

In a perfect world your stories would find themselves in both the print and online versions, and when they do it is a major win, for sure. Just please don’t underestimate the value of your story being published online-only!

Thank you for reading and be sure to share your thoughts in the comments!